Project costs, regulations are top concerns with water

Jay Chamberlin, manager of the Owyhee Irrigation District, talks about the history of the Owyhee Project and the challenges in making repairs and upgrades on the aging system, which is closing on being 90 years old.

ONTARIO — Led by staff from the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board, a conversation about the state’s vision for water use, management and conservation over the next 100 years came to Ontario on Monday.

The talk, held at Treasure Valley Community College, included people from Malheur Harney and Lake counties, was well as TVCC students. It was one of eight being held around the state to gain public input on the challenges of having enough enough clean water for people in the state and in the future.

Challenges cited for all sessions include climate change and the related problems of fire, drought and flooding, a lack of investment to update water infrastructure and changes in population and associated development.

Goals of the water vision are to have a secure and safe water supply; to have adequate, clean ground and surface water to support economies around the state; and to have adequate cool and clean water to support fish and wildlife and safety.

One of the major concerns among the participants was the cost of taking on major projects designed to help communities and agriculture producers meet federal and state water standards among other mandates. Other concerns included the cost to repair or replace infrastructure this old and worn out and the cost benefit to meeting some regulations.

Jay Chamberlin, manager of the Owyhee Irrigation District, said the project is about 90 years old and in need of expensive repairs.

He also noted that while the mandate for the project is about irrigation, it also provides about 15 megawatts of power generated by three power plants in the system in-season and provides recreation below and above the dam.

Because the Owyhee Project is a gravity flow system, Chamberlin said it is conducive to setting up gravity flow pressured irrigation systems for such things as pivots and drip irrigation. While these systems are much more efficient than furrow irrigation, pivots can cost around $70,000.

Mark Owens, Harney County Commissioner, said, one of the things that is needed for counties and cities to meet mandates is flexibility in the regulations.

Once the eight conversations have been completed, a summary will be put together for each one. This will be combined with information from other listening sessions and presented to Gov. Kate Brown and the Legislature.

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